What’s the Best Coffee Brewing Method?

We have posts on the most common brew methods for making coffee already, so we wanted to help you find the best brew method. This will depend on your lifestyle and be an individualized decision, but here are some pointers on how to pick the method that suits you the best.

Immersion vs. Percolation

Immersion methods, such as the French Press, AeroPress, Hario Switch and Clever Dripper (the last three also use a filter), tend to be much more forgiving than percolation methods. Testing has been done with varying grind sizes with immersion methods, like the French Press, and they were all drinkable. If you use the wrong grind size on a percolation method, like a pour over, the result could be undrinkable. Cold brew is another immersion method that is easy to make in large batches.

Percolation methods, such as the pour over method or using a drip coffee maker are less forgiving than the immersion methods because water is passing through the grounds/filter once instead of being immersed in water for a set period of time.

One of the most important variables in making coffee is the grind size, that is why we always recommend grinding your own coffee by weight with a burr grinder so you can adjust the grind size to get the optimal extraction. With immersion methods like the French Press, the recommended ratio is 60-75 grams of coffee per liter, so you can adjust the ratio to taste. This is because at a certain point you get diminishing returns with coffee extraction with immersion/steeping in hot water. If you wait longer you won’t extract more coffee taste, so you need to add more coffee.

With the percolation methods the recommendation is to grind finer until you taste bitterness then adjust the grind back coarser a little to ensure optimal extraction. If your coffee is sour or weak, keep adjusting finer until you can dial in your right grind size. Make sure you are using clean fresh water fresh off the boil and quality coffee. With percolation we try not to change the coffee to water ratio, only the grind size to modulate our coffee taste. This is because we only get one chance with percolation for the water to pass through the grounds, so we need to ensure we have the right grind size, grind evenness and surface area of the coffee for the coffee to extract properly. Even the thickness, speed and shape of the filter can impact this because we need to make sure the draw down time is not too long or short know how it impacts our extraction. Overall, percolation needs a little more effort to dial everything in, but I believe it has better results for the extra effort.

For 1-2 servings of coffee

I consider a serving to be about 12 oz since that is a typical large coffee mug with some room left in it. My usual brew size is 700 ml to make two servings.

If you want less than 12 ounces, we recommend using the AeroPress which can make about 6-7 oz of coffee. It is easy to use and has great results and also easy to travel with or bring to the office. It makes some of the best tasting coffee, but the brew size can be limiting. The AeroPress comes with paper filters, but can also be used with metal filters.

For about 12-14 ounces, try the Hario Switch, this is also an immersion brewer with a filter that is easy to use and makes great coffee. It combines the best of a French Press and filter coffee, I find the coffee to be somewhat muted using this method compared to an AeroPress. You can also use this brewer for pour over coffee.

Pour over is a great method that can make up to about 27 ounces of coffee for two full mugs. This is the method I use most mornings and requires some more attention, but I believe it has the best results if done correctly. Most people use paper filters with this method, but you can also find reusable metal and cloth filters.

French Press is a method that can make small or large brew sizes depending on the size of your vessel. Some people don’t like French press as all the oils are retained due to the absence of a filter which results in a different taste and texture from filtered coffee. This is a personal preference if you prefer having the oils in the coffee or prefer filtered coffee. Using permanent metal filters instead of paper filters on the other methods discussed here will also allow the natural oils in coffee to stay in the brew.

For 3-4 servings of coffee

For these brew sizes your best bet is to use a larger French Press for immersion or a coffee maker for percolation. Once you find the right grind size, a good coffee brewer with proper brew temperatures will make you a great cup of coffee. Many coffee makers come with metal filters, but I prefer using paper filters for a cleaner cup. Check out the review of our favorite brewer here.

You can also make cold brew in large batches in the refrigerator. The cold brew process makes the coffee less acidic, but you may also miss some of the notes in the coffee compared to a hot brew.

What about Espresso?

If you’re interested in espresso and more home barista stuff, know that it is quite a commitment, we talk more about espresso here. AeroPress and Moka Pot can get you some espresso-like results, especially if you’re making milk based drinks, but it isn’t the same as using an espresso machine due to the pressure levels required to make true espresso.

Best Dairy Alternative for Brewed Coffee

We got a request for a post about the best dairy alternative for brewed coffee. We didn’t look at dairy replacements for espresso-based drinks, because some of those have added gums, emulsifiers and fats that help with steaming, frothing and latte art. If you have issues with the milk alternatives curdling, you may need to try the “creamer” version of these plant milks. Another tip is not to pour the milk into the coffee until it cools a little.

When brewing specialty coffee, we always recommend to at least try the coffee black first, and if you really need to then you can add milk. So, with that disclaimer out of the way, some people just like a little milk in their coffee, so what are the best options? Another way to avoid curdling is to add the milk in first and slowly add the coffee, for those of you committed to drinking coffee with milk.

First thing is why do you want a dairy alternative? Is it for sustainability & environmental reasons? Lactose intolerance? Trying to lower calories? Are you going vegan? Allergies? That will help you pick from the options below.

Second, we only wanted look at options that were unsweetened and would not change the flavor of the coffee. For example, we did not look at hazelnut, coconut or hemp milk because that has natural flavoring and we wanted something as similar to milk as possible in taste and texture. There is lots of information out there about the sustainability and water usage of these alternatives, feel free to check those out, but essentially all of them have less environmental impact than the production of cow’s milk.

Third, it had to be easy to find. Things we could find at our local supermarket or available for delivery with Amazon Prime/Fresh.

Soy milk, almond milk and rice milk have been around for a while, none really serve as a good milk replacement for brewed coffee. They are too watery and tend to curdle unless you buy the creamer version. Also, from a taste and texture perspective, we don’t find them to be suitable alternatives to cow’s milk. If you’re looking for protein, cow’s milk and soy milk offer the best choice.

The two we recommend are oat milk and cashew milk for options that best mimic the taste and texture of adding cow’s milk to brewed coffee. Oat milk is thick, rich and tastes the most like dairy, if you are worried about calories go for the cashew milk which is a little more watery.

You can also try macadamia milk as a third and slightly harder to find option, it adds more of its own flavor and sweetness than the other two and is a little more watery.

There are links below to the specific products we looked at.

As you can see oat milk has about as many calories as 2% cow’s milk, but less than whole milk. Highest in calories and fat of the alternatives.

Cashew milk has far less calories and fat than oat milk or cow’s milk.

Here is the nutritional information for macadamia milk. It is in between oat and cashew milk for calories and fat.

The following are for reference/comparison:

Here is the nutritional information for whole milk.

Here is the nutritional information for 2% milk.

Here is the nutritional information for 1% milk.

Here is the nutritional information for unsweetened soy milk.

Here is the nutritional information for almond milk.

Best Value Coffee Brewer – Ninja Programmable

The Ninja CE251 Programmable Brewer is available at many retailers and is a great option if you are looking for the best value in a coffee maker. It makes great coffee and has strong set of features. While this model is not certified by the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA), some of the machines in the Ninja line are and they may have carried some of the capabilities into this machine. Check out the Ninja CM407 for an SCA certified MultiServe brewer with thermal carafe that can make different serving sizes easily (see our full review of the CM401). We also reviewed the Cuisinart PerfecTemp with a similar price price and the Ninja performed much better.

The machine isn’t the best looking machine out there, but it is thoughtfully designed. Some of the great features are the removeable water compartment, showerhead dripper, drip stop basket holder, programmable auto-on and brew straw to prevent coffee stratification. I wish it came with a thermal carafe option, but at this price point it is a great value. You cannot brew into anything other than the supplied carafe due to the machine design, so an after market carafe or brewing into a mug is not an option.

One reason why you always hear me talk about measuring coffee by weight and milliliters is that there is no standard cup size on these machines. This machine comes with a 60 ounce or 12 cup carafe, which if you do the math would mean they define a “cup” as 5 ounces, but if you test that with a measuring cup the markings on the water compartment aren’t exact. How I measure coffee is use a measuring cup with milliliter markings for water and refer to my chart below to determine how many grams of coffee to use with how much water. I grind the beans fresh each time before brewing, but you can grind the night before if you want to program it for auto start.

One of the main requirements to earn SCA certification is the brew temperature and this machine brews at the ideal temperature. With a final brew temperature of 185F (with hot plate off) for a 700 ml brew, this brew temperature is on par if not better with the SCA certified brewers we have tested. For comparison, a pour over made with fresh off the boil water is about a 178F final brew temperature. I also like that you can turn off the hot plate so you don’t cook your coffee and also set the auto off time for the hot plate. Not have the option for a thermal carafe isn’t a deal breaker, as long as you transfer your coffee within about 20 minutes you should be ok leaving it on the hot plate. I turn the hot plate off all together and make sure to transfer my coffee to a thermos or mug soon after the brew is done, which has an audible alert or there is an auto drip stop when you remove the carafe.

The machine uses #4 cone filters which are easy to find. For the cost, features and brew quality this machine is our pick for best value coffee brewer, with such great results you’re paying for design and build quality/warranty on the higher priced brewers. Check out all our recommendations here.

You can download the Ninja CE241 manual here.

Why Do I Blog? Why Coffee?

I’ve been asked that question a lot after launching my blog to a larger audience. For me this is really a passion project, I am quite fascinated with coffee for many reasons, but one of the main ones is that coffee is just so complex. There are so many factors to consider. You could take really great green coffee and mess it up during the roast. You could take great roasted coffee and mess it up during the grinding or brewing process. So many factors and so many variables make it a crazy network of interconnecting rabbit holes, and who doesn’t love a good rabbit hole?

My goal in starting this project was simple, I wanted to improve people’s coffee experience and provide them the information and resources to do so with value and convenience in mind. What I found is that every time I searched for something about coffee I was inundated with ads, two ads in between each paragraph, header ads, footer ads, sidebar ads and don’t forget the pop up asking if you want to enable notifications.

The information in those ad riddled posts were often way too basic or not what I would consider accessible to most people. I wanted to create something that was easy to read and short where it needed to be and detailed where it needed to be, if that makes any sense.

As I started really getting into coffee I was talking to friends and family about how they consumed coffee and heard a variety of answers. One theme that I saw recurring was that people who were very deliberate and thoughtful about their choices as consumers (myself included prior to this), were not at all discerning in their selection of coffee. They saw coffee as just something to be consumed in the morning for a caffeine kick. You know the people I’m talking about, they research things, they care about sustainability, they buy organic food, they know all the good restaurants and can explain to you the different varieties of wine or beer, but when it came time for coffee, they had a Keurig machine or sometimes the upgrade of a Nespresso.

Nobody I spoke to bought coffee from a local roaster or focused on specialty coffee or single origin. A few people bought Blue Bottle, Peet’s or Stumptown coffee, but that was it. When I asked most people what kind of coffee they liked, the answer 9 times out of 10 was either “medium” or “dark.” What really started this whole project was me trying to convince my wife that we were overpaying for Keurig and Nespresso, and that for less money we could be making much better coffee.

My passion project is really an outreach and information campaign to let people know that much better coffee has a low barrier to entry, especially if you’re already paying for pods. Many people are under the impression that they need to spend a thousand dollars on a super-automatic coffee machine to get better coffee, the opposite is actually true as most pros would agree the coffee from those machines is worse than what you can make with a regular espresso machine or pour over due to the lack of adjustments.

The idea I am sharing is that, any fresh, whole bean coffee, ground and brewed using any method will be better than the coffee in pods at a lower cost, now if your lifestyle or needs are such that pods are the only option, that’s fine, I just wanted to let people that better coffee is within reach for minimal investment.

The truth is that large coffee chains, like Starbucks, have conditioned us to think that super dark roasted, bitter, awful coffee is bold or strong and what coffee should taste like. For those who want a better coffee experience, I want to be a resource to get you there.

Specialty coffee is amazing, the notes and aromas that come from freshly roasted coffee is something I look forward to every morning. I usually only drink one cup of coffee a day and I look forward to the next day’s cup. Even though I test different coffee machines, I still go to my pour over most mornings and find the process therapeutic.

Let me know what kind of posts you would like to see in future posts.

How to Make [Non-Muddy] Coffee with a French Press

The French Press gets a bad reputation for being difficult to clean and making muddy coffee, but it’s a great immersion brewer that is low cost and easy to use if you do it right. We tested the OXO Brew French Press with GroundsLifter with our brew method and recommend it. If you look at recipes for French Press, you will find a lot that say different things, we have tried many of them and found this combination of different methods to be our favorite. This method will give you a nice clean cup and is easy to clean up.

Here is what you will need:

Here are the instructions:

  1. Boil the water in your kettle.
  2. While your water is warming, using the recipe sheet and on the resources page, grind your coffee by weight to a medium ground. The recipe sheet is based off of 60 grams of coffee per liter of water, however for French Press you can go as high as 75 grams of coffee per liter of water. For our example we use 42 grams for 700 ml of water. You can adjust to ratio between 1:13 to 1:17.
  3. Pour the ground coffee into the French Press.
  4. Start your timer and add 2-3x the weight of the coffee in boiling water, swirl and stir to ensure all the grounds are saturated then wait for 30-45 seconds.
  5. Pour the remaining water.
  6. Swirl again and allow the brew to steep for a total of 4:00.
  7. At the end of 4:00 all of the particles should have fallen to the bottom, place the lid on the French Press and plunge only to the surface of the brew. You don’t want to plunge all the way down as it will stir up all the coffee.
  8. Gently pour the coffee trying not to cause the grounds at the bottom to stir up, between pours you may need to plunge down just to the surface again for faster flow.
  9. Do not wash coffee grounds down your drain, you can throw them in the trash or use them for compost. If you don’t have the OXO, then pour the grounds into a sieve/strainer then discard or compost them.

If you’re looking for an immersion brew method with a filter, check out the Clever Dripper or AeroPress.

How to Make Coffee with a Clever Dripper

The Clever Dripper is another brewer that combines the immersion brew method with a paper filter. They allow for larger brew sizes than the AeroPress, and like the AeroPress, are also very forgiving. You can make about 12 ounce of coffee easily. It looks like a pour over dripper, however there is a leak proof valve at the bottom that will not begin the draw down until it is placed on a mug or carafe. Also see our brew guide and review on the Hario Switch, which is very similar to the Clever Dripper, but can also be used to make pour over coffee.

Things you will need:

Here are the instructions for making coffee with a Clever Dripper:

  1. Boil the water in your gooseneck kettle.
  2. While your water is warming, using the recipe sheet and on the resources page, grind your coffee by weight to a medium/fine ground, similar to table salt. I would use a maximum brew size of about 400 ml, so for this example we will use 24 grams of coffee for 400 ml of water.
  3. Fold the #4 Cone Filter at the two seams to assist with better seating in the dripper
  4. Do not place the Clever Dripper on the carafe at this time, place it on your counter or scale.
  5. Rinse the filter paper and warm the dripper. Dispose of the water.
  6. Place your Clever Dripper directly on the scale (without the carafe) and tare to zero.
  7. First pour in 400 ml of fresh off the boil water.
  8. Second add the 24 grams of coffee and stir until fully saturated.
  9. Allow the coffee to steep for 2:00.
  10. At the end of the steep stir the crust. You can wait another 30 seconds after the stir if you want.
  11. Place the dripper on a carafe to begin the draw down into a carafe, this should take about 1:00.
  12. Stir the coffee before serving.

Check out our post about the AeroPress here, another great option for single servings and travel.

How to Buy Green Coffee and Decode Specialty Coffee Labels

After the post about how to roast your own coffee with an air popper, several people asked me how to buy green coffee? Many of the things to look at when buying green coffee are the same as buying single-origin coffee (check out my post on buying roasted coffee). The first time you shop for green or specialty it can be a little overwhelming. Green coffee and specialty coffee labels may contain some combination the following:

  • Country of Origin
  • Region
  • Processing Method
  • Farm, Estate or Processing Station
  • Size or Grade
  • Variant or Cultivar
  • Elevation or if Shade Grown

Check out this page for a great graphic of coffee types, needless to say there are a lot. Usually they don’t make it into the label though, but if you dig into the descriptions online they may show up.

I won’t dive into all aspects of this because it would be a super long post, but if you’re interested to learn more about all things coffee a great book is the World Atlas of Coffee by James Hoffmann that breaks down the different areas around the world where coffee is grown and just a really great baseline for about all the brewing methods.

It’s important to note that coffee is an agricultural product and like any agricultural product there are harvesting seasons and variation. Wine is similar, sometimes there are good years, bad years, good harvests and bad harvests. There is an entire industry dedicated to sourcing green coffee as coffee is the world’s 2nd most traded commodity behind petroleum products.

Similar to wine, coffee is very personal. What one person likes the other person may not. Some people prefer more floral or tea like flavors while others people want bolder coffee or chocolate notes.

Let’s breakdown some examples of green and specialty coffee names.

Ethiopia Guji Hambela Dabaye

  • Country of Origin: Ethiopia
  • Region of Origin: Guji
  • Processing Station: Hambela
  • Kebele (Municipality of Ethiopia, similar to a town): Dabaye

Costa Rica La Minita Estate Tarrazu Washed

  • Country of Origin: Costa Rica
  • Region of Origin: Tarrazu
  • Estate/Farm: La Minita Estate
  • Processing Method: Wet Processed or Washed

In the above example you will notice the name will sometimes include if it is Wet Processed (Washed), Dry Processed (Natural) or Honey Processed. While not always the case, usually dry processed coffee will indicate that it is dry processed, otherwise most of the time if it is not indicated you can assume it is wet processed. You’ll also notice there isn’t a standard convention to put the estate or region in any specific order.

You can read more about the different processing methods here. Try out the different types and see which ones you like. Dry processed coffee tends to be described as more floral or wild tasting. The latest trend is Carbonic Maceration and Anaerobic Fermentation which you can read more about here, I haven’t tried either.

Decaf has its own types of processing, try to pick one that is Swiss Water Process (SWP) or Mountain Water Process (MWP) which doesn’t use chemicals like they do in the other processes.

Sometimes it will include the size or grade such as 17/18, AA or Supremo which refers to the diameter of the bean. There is a good article about it here that breaks down how different areas have different terms. Specialty Coffee means it has met standards which you can read about here. You may hear the term Third Wave Coffee used, but there is no agreed upon definition of that like there is for Specialty Coffee.

Here are some other acronyms you may see:

  • FT: Fair Trade
  • FTO: Fair Trade Organic (I mentioned in this post that it isn’t necessary to buy organic coffee)
  • RFA: Rain Forest Alliance (read more here)   

Here are the two main sites I buy green coffee from, because I really like their detailed notes and instructions:

  • Burman Coffee Traders is recommended a lot, but I haven’t tried them yet. Will update the post when I do.

These sites also sell some roasted coffee so you can buy some and see how your home roasting compares to theirs. Add about 25% to the cost of green coffee if comparing to roasted coffee prices to account for the roughly 20% weight loss in the roasting process.

Hopefully this crash course has helped you to decode some of the green coffee and specialty coffee names, below you will see all the different types of coffee I have bought green and roasted myself. There is not a single one that I thought was bad after I found the right grind size, the ones in bold are the ones I particularly enjoyed and would purchase again (if it was in available). You’ll notice some don’t have the processing station or farm on them, that is because they were purchased from a larger supplier that didn’t break it down that far. Since then, I have tried to source only fully traceable green coffee. I could have made this post a lot longer, but as with my other posts, I take a lot of information and try to condense it for easier reading with links throughout if you want to read more about it.

  • Colombia Sierra Nevada FTO Washed
  • Ethiopia Shakiso Guji Dry Process
  • Ethiopia Guji Hambela Dabaye
  • Ethiopia Guji Uraga Yabitu Wet Process
  • Guatemala Acatenango Gesha Lot 2*
  • Ethiopia Yirgacheffe Washed FTO
  • Costa Rica La Minita Estate Tarrazu Washed
  • Ethiopia Sidama Shantawene Village
  • Panama La Esmeralda Gesha 1500*
  • Indonesia Bali Blue Moon Organic
  • Colombia Supremo 17/18 RFA
  • Ethiopia Guji Shakiso
  • Ethiopia Yirgacheffe Aricha Washed
  • Ethiopia Yirgacheffe Dumerso
  • Ethiopia Dry Process Guji Hambela
  • Panama Dry Process Paso Ancho
  • Ethiopia Sidama Damo
  • Guatemala Proyecto Xinabajul Chalum
  • Costa Rica Helsar Macho Ave
  • Rwanda Dry Process Ngororero
  • Colombia Pavon Finca Los Palomos
  • Ethiopia Sidama Shantawene Village
  • Kenya Kiambu Evans Farm AA

Like I said, coffee is very personal and you can see some recurring themes here. I tried Yirgacheffe and Sidama from a local roaster and still felt that I also enjoyed the Yirgacheffe more than the Sidama. However, my wife really likes the Sidama so everyone will enjoy different things. This article really dives into the different types of coffee.

*Quick note on Gesha (alternate spelling Geisha) coffee, which you may have already heard of. If you have heard of it, you know it is very expensive, around $30-50 per pound for roasted coffee. The green coffee sites I use had some for about half that price so I thought I would try it out. It was great coffee, very floral and almost tasted like black tea, but I didn’t think it was twice as good as some of the other Ethiopian (also known for floral notes) beans that I roasted, so I wouldn’t necessarily purchase them again unless I was planning a nice gift for a coffee lover.

Sweet Maria’s has particularly robust notes on their green coffee so I encourage you to check out the different tabs for Overview, Specs, Farm Notes and Cupping Notes.

Coffee needs to be shipped to its final destination and the way it is packaged is important, the industry standard is a GrainPro Liner which will keep the coffee fresh and keep bugs and pests out, so that is something you can check on also although most sourcing channels will use this type of packaging. Green coffee can last quite a while when shipped and stored properly, it is roasted coffee that we really need to watch the dates on.

Here are some examples of the graphical representations you can find on Sweet Maria’s site. You can look for notes you like in your coffee.

How to Make Cold Brew Coffee

If you search for how to make cold brew online, you will likely find about 10 different methods. I’ve probably tried all 10 and found this method to work best. Remember, we always prefer to use weight over volume for our coffee recipe. In another post I wrote a quick set of instructions for making cold brew, but I’ve been asked about this lately so figured it deserved its own post with more detail.

One thing to mention is that cold brew coffee is not iced coffee. Iced coffee is brewed hot and allowed to cool or brewed over ice to make it cold. The hot brew method extracts differently than the cold brew method. Cold brew is generally less acidic and has a more neutral taste. Iced coffee will have more of the notes that are specific to the bean and also uses less coffee.

One of the most important things about any coffee brewing is the grind size, grind too coarse and it tastes sour, grind too fine and it tastes bitter. However with cold brew we usually add water, milk or ice to suit our taste so that helps neutralize that. This is one brewing method where you don’t need to use your best and freshest beans, for many this is actually the way they use up stale beans without wasting them. Cold brew is also somewhat of a coffee hog in that our normal ratio is about 1:17 and we use 1:8 with cold brew so it requires a lot more coffee.

Cold brew is easy to make in large batches and can be kept in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

Here is what you will need, you’ll likely already have some of this around the house. There is no need to buy a cold brew maker, unless you really want to.

Here is the process:

  1. Use a medium-coarse grind (around an 10 with my OXO Grinder) with a 1:8 ratio of grams of coffee to milliliters of water. You can use a larger vessel, but I usually use a 32 oz. mason jar and use about 94 grams of coffee and 750 ml of water. Give it a stir/shake to mix the water and the grounds.
  2. Let it steep in the refrigerator for 16-24 hours. Give it a stir/shake a couple times during that time.
  3. Use your metal coffee filter or sieve to remove all the coarse grounds while pouring into another vessel, I usually use a large measuring cup for easier pouring.
  4. After all the large grounds are out run it through a paper coffee filter. This may take a while, I usually pour half through a paper filter, then use a new filter for the second half. Lately, I have been using my V60 dripper and filter that I use for pour over coffee.
  5. Add water, ice or milk to your taste preference. Store it in the refrigerator.

Another way to do this is to make cold brew concentrate using the same method and a 1:4 ratio of grams of coffee to ml of water. Then you can add an equal part of water, milk or ice to taste.

Home Coffee Roasting with an Air Popper

If you want really fresh coffee you can buy from local roasters or just roast it yourself. This is a lot easier to do then it sounds. First thing you need to do is to get yourself an electric popcorn maker, the Nostalgia one pictured is a good option. If you buy it from Sweet Maria’s for $20 it will include 4 pounds of green coffee for you to roast, this is a great deal because normally the popper alone around $20 at retailers.

Below is what you will need, hopefully you already have some of this at home. There is a video below, but I always learn better when I can read the steps and then watch the video.

At its basic meaning roasting is the application of heat, you can apply heat to coffee beans many ways. Here are some other methods to roast coffee you can read more about online, but I think using the air popper is the easiest (and cheapest). Most people outgrow the air popper mainly because they want bigger batch sizes or more control over their roast.

Coffee pops or cracks when roasting, twice actually. The time it is called First Crack and it is louder and more pronounced, the second time is called Second Crack and it is a little quieter and faster.

In the coffee roasting world there are different terms for roast levels than what you are used to seeing. There are more than these, but I will focus on the most common ones and the ones in my comfort zone for roasting.

  • City Roast – At or near the end of First Crack, City + Roast allows for a little more development –420-430F – This would be called a light or medium roast
  • Full City – Right Before/Beginning of Second Crack, Full City + is when the second crack is “rolling” or popping regularly (think of microwaving popcorn, this isn’t the first outliers this is when it is really popping quickly) – 430-440F – This would be called a medium or medium-dark roast

The temperatures are approximate and you will see different guides vary a little. For my purposes I try to end a City Roast around 426F and a Full City Roast around 437F.

The coffee roasting process will create a lot of smoke and chaff (coffee skin) that flies all over the place. Because of this I almost always roast outside. Read below for tips on roasting indoors.

Many of the professional drum roasters have sensors and settings for temperature, heat, drum speed, air flow and many other things can be tracked and adjusted on the fly. With an air popper we only have on and off so we are limited (there are videos out there to show you how to mod these things, but I don’t mess with that) in our controls. The main things we have is to go off are sight, sound, smell and temperature, that is what the laser thermometer is for, so we can measure the center of the bean mass.

Here is some more information about roast levels and roast data. Here is also a handy roast card.

Ok, that was a lot of background info so let’s start the process. Please read this entire post before your first roast, things move pretty fast and you won’t have time to read as you go. The total roast times for an air popper can vary between 4-7 minutes. Coffee roasting is a fire risk, always watch your roast and never leave it unattended.

Below is a video of the process, I don’t check the temperature or agitate as much as normally would to get you a better view of the roast progression. Click here for the non-narrated version if you don’t want to hear me talk.

  1. Read the description of the green coffee, if you buy from Sweet Maria’s or Happy Mug it will have some great roasting and tasting notes on it. Determine what your target roast level is. City, City+, Full City or Full City+ unless the bean specifically calls for something darker than this, I wouldn’t go darker than a Full City + roast. When you go that dark you really start to lose the aromas and notes in the coffee and just get bitter Starbucks-like coffee.
  2. Measure your batch size with a scale, I recommend between 2.5 and 3.5 ounces. I usually roast about 3.2 ounces per batch, because I am buying 1 and 2 pound bags and that will get me 5 or 10 even sized roasts out of the bag.
  3. Pre-warm your air popper, I usually warm it for a couple minutes until about 330F. The pros use environment temp (ET) and bean temp (BT) probes. We don’t have a good way to track the ET in an air popper, but the BT can be checked with our laser thermometer.
  4. I roast in a warmer climate so I always leave the lid off of my air popper to prevent the ET from getting too warm. You should only do this if roasting outdoors.
  5. Turn on your timer and pour the beans into the air popper and agitate about every 5-10 seconds, I hold the lip of the air popper where it doesn’t get as hot and agitate the beans in a vertical motion to try to get the beans to cycle from top to bottom and bottom to top to promote even roasting. I keep doing this until the beans are moving freely on their own. I still agitate a little when the beans are moving and cracking every 30 seconds or so, sometimes more if I feel the beans are spinning and not necessary moving from bottom to top.
  6. As the roast is progressing the beans are losing weight and you will notice drying, yellowing, smoke and the smell changes. At this point chaff may be flying everywhere, this is when I take my cheap fan and turn it on to blow all the chaff away from me and also keep the ET a little lower with the airflow. Coffee will lose about 20% of its weight during roasting.
  7. Soon you will hear your First Crack, then first crack will start rolling (think popcorn), the earliest I recommend ending a roast in an air popper is when first crack ends, where it has stopped or slowed down to less than one pop every 10-15 seconds.
  8. I usually roast about 30-45 seconds past the end of first crack since lighter roasts levels are harder to do well on an air popper due to the lack of controls. Bean temp will be around 430F.
  9. If you choose to go to second crack you will hear that as well and can decide to end the roast right when it starts at a temperature around 440F. I try not to let second crack go into rolling unless the notes suggest it.
  10. At this point when you are ready to end the roast turn off your timer and air popper and pour the beans into your sieve. Place the fan under your sieve and start transferring the beans between the two sieves while the fan is blowing under them. This will help cool the beans and blow away any residual chaff. You want to do this until they are cool enough to touch with your hands.
  11. At this point go through and discard any deformed and empty looking beans and pour them back into your cupping tray or a pan for more cooling.
  12. Take notes about your roast after and/or during your roast. Record the type of coffee, the date, the temperatures, when was the first crack, what was your roast level (I’ll note something like First Crack +30), what was the finish time of your roast so in the future you can have a baseline for when you taste it. Maybe next time you want to roast a little lighter or darker however don’t get stuck on your roast times with an air popper, trust your sight and smell to know how your roast is progressing.  
  13.  Factors like the type of beans, ambient temperature, humidity, level of agitation will all impact the roast time so it may vary between roasts even when all other factors are the same. I have two Nostalgia air poppers I use and the red one roasts faster than the blue one, even though they are the exact same air popper from the same company just in different colors.
  14. Some roasters suggest that coffee needs to degas for at least 12-24 hours before you can brew it. Do not store them in an air tight container for the first 12 hours, you can put them in a mason jar (out of sunlight), but don’t screw the lid down all the way.

You can do another roast after this, but I would not recommend doing more than 2-3 roasts without letting the air popper cool down completely (which is why I have two). Also, roasting coffee in your air popper will void the warranty, but for $20 what did you expect?

There are videos out there of how-to mod the power levels on your air popper, I don’t recommend doing this. If you think the power level is too high you can try using a long extension cord or power strip to try and reduce the power level. You can try to pry the air vents to open more for increased airflow, but I haven’t tried this.

If you live in a cold climate, it may not be possible to roast outdoors. You can try to use the lid to keep the warmth in or build a small enclosure to keep the warmth in roasting outdoors. If you are doing this indoors make sure you have really good ventilation, open windows, run a fan, roast under a range hood if possible. To control chaff, use the air popper with the lid and aim it at your sink (spray the sink down a little so the wetness will cause the chaff to stick) or you can also do this with a large pot or bowl.

Congratulations, you have roasted your first coffee. It will be hard to wait the 12-24 hours before you can grind and brew it, but it will be worth the wait.

Now that you’ve roasted your own coffee check out some other posts on how to improve your coffee experience:

Stop the Scoop

One thing I’ve mentioned numerous times throughout my blog is that coffee should be measured by weight using a scale. Coffee beans come in different sizes, weights, moisture content and density so using a volume measurement such as a tablespoon or nondescript “scoop” doesn’t tell us much about our coffee recipe. Green coffee loses about 20% of its weight during roasting and there are a lot of factors that can impact the final weight.

The standard for measuring coffee is grams of coffee to milliliters of water. For drip, pour over and filter coffee the mostly widely recommend ratio is 1 gram of coffee to 16.7 ml of water (based off 60 grams coffee per liter of water or 30 grams for 500 ml). Recommended ratios can vary from 1:15 to 1:18, but the best way we can modulate our coffee taste is to adjust the grind size not to adjust the ratio. Since one milliliter of water weighs exactly one gram this makes doing pour over on a scale easy, take the amount of coffee you have multiplied by 16.7 and that is how many grams of water you need to pour. Or take the amount of water you want to use in milliliters and divide by 16.7 for how much coffee to use.

The term “cups” is confusing because in the coffee world it can mean 4 ounces, 5 ounces, 150 ml or 8 ounces depending on the manufacturer of the brewer. You can use a large measuring cup to figure out what your brewer’s markings mean.

I was helping a friend with their coffee recipe once and they told me they used a certain number of tablespoons for every cup of water, once I figured out if they were talking about 4, 5, or 8 ounce cups and I figured out the rough weight of one tablespoon of their coffee, I found out they were using a 1:28 brew ratio, which is a really diluted coffee.

Check our our post about kitchen scales.

Check out the brew recipe guide below and others on the resources page. I find this useful as I measure my water going into the brewer with a 1 liter measuring cup and disregard the markings on the machine.

If you really can’t weigh out coffee every day because you don’t have a scale at work, are traveling or just don’t want to deal with it, what you can do to try and improve your coffee recipe is, for each type of coffee you use, weigh how much one “scoop” is so you can try to hit the correct ratio when brewing. For me using a level “scoop” that came with my grinder I get between 10 to 11 grams of coffee, which isn’t that exact, but at least I have a baseline for roughly how many scoops I need. For example, to get 30 grams for a 500 ml brew would be about 3 scoops.

Another way is that if you have a grinder with a timer like I do, you can figure out how many seconds it takes to grind your desired amount. Not always exact, but better than nothing. If you use this method you can keep beans in your grinder hopper if you stick with one type of coffee bean. I often change my brew size so this wouldn’t work well for me, if you have a daily brew size it may work for you. Some higher end grinders include a scale and the option to dose by weight or to program grind times for different doses.

I mentioned before that my process is to keep my grinder hopper empty and weigh out my coffee beans then grind until empty. I found this the best way as I rotate through a lot of different types of coffee throughout the week. Most grinders do retain some grounds so if you don’t want to mix your coffees give your grinder a good cleaning when switching out coffee or you can grind a few grams of your new coffee to flush out the old grounds before dosing. With larger brews this makes less of a difference so I usually just switch coffees without worrying about retention. They have grinders made and marketed for low retention, but they are usually well into the $400 to $800 price range.